Employment Law 101: Hollywood Edition

While I most often write on Law Law Land about copyrightsInternet issues, and various things Hollywood, the bread and butter of my practice is employment litigation: more specifically, representing employers who are sued for wrongful termination, discrimination, sexual harassment, and/or wage and hour claims. In California, employment laws tend to favor employees, and like any employer, Hollywood employers are vulnerable to employment lawsuits when they don’t cross their T’s and dot their I’s (and sometimes even when they do).

The Hollywood employment lawsuit du jour was brought against MTV by a former employee on the show The Hills. Do you remember that trip to Costa Rica the cast took for the 100th episode of the show? Yeah, me neither — as much as I love me some Justin Bobby/Audrina drama (almost as much as I love James Franco and Mila Kunis’ spoof of them during the writers’ strike), I just couldn’t stomach K-Cav as leading lady. [Ed. Note: Did any of the last sentence mean anything to you, dear readers? No, me neither.] But this Costa Rica trip will now live on in infamy, not only as the trip where Justin Bobby apparently wore a Confederate flag hat, but also as the trip that fueled this lawsuit.

According to the complaint, Eliza Sproul was a Field Clearance Coordinator/Production Coordinator on The Hills and accompanied Kristin and crew to Costa Rica. There, her employment “took a turn for the worse” when she was allegedly pressured with drugs, sexually harassed, and forced to work long hours until she “essentially broke down” from exhaustion. The complaint was just filed on October 18, so MTV has not yet filed any responsive papers. But I’m going to put on my employment litigator hat for a moment to analyze Ms. Sproul’s claims. Continue reading the full story . . . »


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Northern District Class Action Lawsuit Against Yelp! Inc. Dismissed After Receiving Too Many Bad Reviews from Federal Judge

Yelp.com describes itself as “the fun and easy way to find and talk about great (and not so great) local businesses.” It proclaims that “[a]s of August 2011, more than 63 million people visited Yelp within the past 30 days.” Its tagline: “Real people. Real reviews.®”

I view Yelp.com as one of the many unnecessary, “Web 2.0” websites I will never use that litters the information superhighway like marine snow in the deep ocean. My wife views it as a source of idle entertainment, where she can enjoy reviews that palaver about Jersey Shore-like drama, before even getting to whether a particular restaurant had good food or not. But some businesses have complained, and even filed lawsuits against Yelp,

 

alleging that Yelp salespeople represent to businesses that Yelp has the power to manipulate Yelp.com business listing pages, and that Yelp will wield that power in favor of the business if it becomes a “Yelp Sponsor” and against the business if it declines to do so.

In other words, some businesses claim that Yelp is the like the internet mafia, asking business owners for protection money to make those bad reviews sleep with the fishes. Is it true? Continue reading the full story . . . »


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Q&A: What Deal Should I Get for the Trailer Being Made for My Script?

Q: A production company is planning to shoot a trailer for the script I wrote. They are paying all expenses for filming. When and how much should I expect to be paid for my script? And do I need a contract prior to filming?

A: It sounds like you took a spec script to a production company, they liked it and now want to shoot a trailer for it. This is unusual. Generally, the film is made before the trailer. Normally, if a production company likes the script, it tries to option the script (or buy it outright) or at least tries to get an exclusive shopping window during which it attempts to set it up at a studio. It’s unclear to me why this production company wants to spend money on a trailer without first tying up the script.

Maybe they don’t want to spend money for the option (but then again they’re willing to spend money on the trailer)? Maybe they’re relatively new and don’t know what they’re doing? Of course, you don’t have to be relatively new to not know what you’re doing — you just have to not know what you’re doing. And when you’re dealing with someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing, it’s hard to know what to do. Continue reading the full story . . . »


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Monkey See, Monkey Sue

On behalf of Law Law Land, I would like to apologize to HBO, the New York courts, and basically, the world at large. A few months ago, my colleague Elisabeth Moriarty suggested that a creative Indonesian monkey should, perhaps, be afforded copyright rights in his adorable self-portrait. That suggestion must have angered the intellectual property gods, who have now unleashed their wrath upon the simian world. Some bozo, I recently learned, sued a cartoon ape for purported right of publicity violations and infliction of emotional distress. Rest easy, Magilla — no one is on to you for that failed bank robbery attempt. I’m talking about the lawsuit recently filed by Johnny Devenanzio… (If you are wondering who this Johnny fellow is, don’t worry, you are not alone.)

For those of you who are not MTV reality show devotees, let’s get you up to speed. Johnny got his start on the Real World Key West, a “true story…of eight strangers…picked to live in a house…work together and have their lives taped…to find out what happens…when people stop being polite…and start getting real.” Johnny then appeared on The Challenge — which used to be called The Real World-Road Rules Challenge, at least back when anyone I know cared about The Real World, or Road Rules, or any kind of challenge that might pit the two against each other — and he continued to make a fool of himself on numerous The Challengespin-offs (all of which involved copious amounts of alcohol, the occasional fist fight, and a fair amount of stupidity). These shows portrayed Johnny as an arrogant, scheming meathead who likes to stir up drama, earning him the nickname “Johnny Bananas.” (Ironically, you can also hire Johnny to give lectures on alcohol awareness, humility, and conflict resolution. That sounds like a great idea…)

Now, let’s get to the lawsuit. With a little help from lawyer Stephanie Ovadia (yes, the same lawyer who represented our beloved Lindsay Lohan in some of her most entertaining lawsuitsever), Johnny is suing the people behind the hit HBO series Entourage (R.I.P.). The lawsuit is based on a storyline involving a fictional cartoon called Johnny’s Bananas in which Kevin Dillon’s character, Johnny “Drama” Chase, lends his voice to a cartoon ape, aptly named Johnny, who tends to go “bananas” when things don’t go his way. Angered by this storyline (and likely upset after his lawyer pointed out that he has a striking resemblance — both mentally and physically — to an unattractive, hot-headed cartoon ape), the real-life Johnny is now claiming that HBO is trying to capitalize on a nickname that he “is solely responsible for creating.” (Apparently Johnny needs to brush up on his Chicago mobster trivia, as he’s not the only “Johnny Bananas” around.)

In his complaint, Johnny seeks an injunction to bar HBO, Time Warner Cable, and Entourage creator Doug Ellin from (a) distributing or broadcasting Entourage’s final season in any way, shape, or form, and (b) manufacturing and selling Johnny’s Bananas merchandise. Johnny also seeks compensatory and punitive damages for the tremendous emotional distress he suffered as a result of Entourage’s “offensive and disparaging” use of his nickname. Does Johnny have a shot at victory? Continue reading the full story . . . »


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Panties in a Twist

Sometimes mistakes are made by accident. Sometimes mistakes are made on purpose (which, I guess, makes them not really mistakes). And sometimes, mistakes are made by, um, stupidity. File this one under stupid.

The Attorney General of the Navajo Nation recently sent Urban Outfitters a cease-and-desist letter, demanding that the corporation stop using the Navajo Nation’s trademarks to sell clothing and accessories that are completely unrelated to the Navajo people. Urban Outfitters’ (extremely tasteful) line of 24 “Navajo”-themed items included such surefire crowd-pleasers (pictured below) as the “Navajo Hipster Panty” and the Navajo flask — especially charming, I’m sure, to a Native American community that has long struggled with alcoholism and whose alcohol-related mortality rate is nearly 12%. Or maybe the style-makers at UO just hadn’t heard.

Just a few items from Urban Outfitters’ site described as “Navajo."

But Urban Outfitters’ “Navajo” product line wasn’t just culturally insensitive (not to mention egregiously ugly). It was also probably a violation of both trademark law and the Indian Arts and Crafts Act of 1990. Continue reading the full story . . . »


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Bright Lights, Stars and Machine Guns: Just Your Average Night in Hollywood

If there’s any pattern in my blog posts, it’s that they are often inspired by my real-life experiences. This one is no different. Recently, I arrived home around 9 p.m. and was greeted by the sound of machine-gun fire that sounded like it was coming from across the street. My husband was out watching a football game (the rival team I poked fun at here) so I had nobody to confirm if there was, in fact, urban warfare taking over the mean streets of Hancock Park, or if it was jut my imagination. The sound continued intermittently every 15–20 minutes for the next hour, with me jumping out of my seat every time (and our cat jumping out of his seat in the window), until my husband got home and confirmed that it was neither my imagination nor an uprising of disgruntled Larchmont Village bakery-goers: a movie was being filmed on the next block over. Sure enough, I seem to have ignored the giant light hovering over the block, which was so bright it could have lit an entire football field for a nighttime game.

The next morning, I drove by to check it out, and saw the block lined with 1940’s-style cars, including a police car and an ambulance. Some Internet sleuthing revealed that the movie being filmed was Gangster Squad, a period piece slated to come out in 2012 with a star-studded cast including Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, and Sean Penn.

My first thought, of course, was, Cool! Maybe I can go stroll by after work and get a glimpse of the filming!

My second thought, since I am obviously a law dork, was, I wonder whether the neighbors have any rights with regard to the movie being filmed there? Continue reading the full story . . . »


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